Cruising through the Rhine Gorge during this wine cruise
was an experience I will never forget.
One of my more memorable cruises was designated a “wine cruise.” For the oenophiles among you, that will certainly sound enticing. But what exactly does it mean? In our case, we were joined by vineyard owners who served their own wine and hosted wine tastings right on the ship, while also experiencing the wines of the region. Delightful!
Throughout a wine cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to get off the ship and explore the wineries and wine hamlets along the famous rivers of Europe, while also being treated to wine education and gourmet food that pair well with the local vintages. You might sail through the northern and southern Rhone Valley (tasting Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes -du-Rhone), while also tasting the wines of your host winemaker (for example, a Sonoma County couple from Petaluma Gap wineries, an APA within Sonoma). It’s the best of all wine worlds!
Wine tasting on a perfect summer day in Rüdesheim or a downpour in Strasbourg -- it's all a great experience!
Wine the Austrian Way
While there are many wine-specific sailings and experiences from which to use in Europe, one particular one stuck out to me. For anyone who’s a fan of Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings, this is a must. During this immersive excursion, guests are introduced to the legendary Heurigers (rustic wine taverns) of Austria, where not only will they have the chance to sit back, relax and sip local wine, but to also soak up the regional ambiance.
Throughout this fun, festive evening, local winemakers serve their home-brewed, seasonal vintages, by the glass or in .75-liter bottles called bouteillens. Try Schankweine, tapped from a barrel; Sturm, fermenting grape juice; or Staubiger, a more bitter, almost-fermented grape juice).
The theme of the Heuriger is coziness - what the Austrians call “Gemutlichkeit” (similar to Hygge in Denmark and Norway). Soak up the wine with salads, breads, roasts, cheese and sausage in typical Austrian culinary style. And, of course, there’s music, from guitars and accordions, to violins and zinthers.
How do you know if you’ve stumbled upon a proper Heuriger? Look for the word “Ausg’steckt” on a sign out front and pine and fir branch decoration. You’ll find some of the liveliest Heurigers in Vienna’s 19th district, which is the wine helmet of Grinzing, while the more relaxing Heurigers are in nearby Nussdorf.
My friends and I enjoying wine tasting onboard the AmaSiena. Members of the
crew served us during the Wine Tasting 101 lecture.
Exclusive Wine Experiences
Premier cruise lines pull out all the corks (pun intended) when showcasing the wines of a particular region on a themed cruise. A few of the more notable inclusions I’ve seen are:
Where to Wine
Of course, within Europe, you’ll have a wide range of choices, from the XXX to the XXX, but think off the continent as well for your wine cruise. Consider the Mississippi River, the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and the Mekong River in Vietnam. Before heading out, brush up on your wine knowledge of the region, perhaps hosting your own little wine party with wines from that area. And don’t forget to invite your oenophile friends along on the cruise - it’s all the more fun with other wine lovers aboard!
Ready to sip while you sail? Let’s chat.
Place Kleber is a not-to-be-missed destination during the holiday season.
If you’re one of those people who can’t get enough of the holidays, with all the festivities, lights, music, treats and general merriment that comes along with the season, Strasbourg is for you. This postcard-perfect city in France’s Alsace region has an enchanting blend of French and German influence, thanks to its borderline location. And, there’s a spectacular Christmas market, to boot!
Here’s why I'm smitten with the capital of the Alsace region and what you can’t miss, particularly during the holidays.
La Petite France District
Seemingly stolen from the pages of a storybook, this UNESCO World Heritage section of town is delightful, particularly in November and December. Wander the labyrinthian streets past the Saint-Thomas Church, known by its two massive Romanesque bell towers; the Tanners’ House along the water’s edge, tucked between other medieval, half-timbered buildings, and the Insta-worthy Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), three bridges in succession over the Ill River and dominated by 14th-century towers and medieval rampart ruins.
It was impossible for me to get the entire cathedral in one photo. It's massive and incredible.
This outstanding example of Gothic architecture sits on the former site of an 11th-century Romanesque cathedral. The crypt and former footprint remain; the spire of the current structure was completed in 1439. Within the incredible ornamental and detailed cathedral, be sure to visit the nave with its 12th- and 14th-century stained-glass windows, huge organ and Renaissance astronomical clock.
The Orangerie Park
Even if you’re visiting Strasbourg in the cold weather, you’ll want to stop at The Orangerie Park. Bundle up, grab a hot beverage and wander through the town’s oldest park. Watch for some of the hundreds of storks that live here, a symbol of Alsace. There’s a beautiful lake, a gourmet restaurant in the timber-framed Buerehiesel house and more to discover.
Strasbourg prides itself on being the “Christmas Capital” of the Alsace region and there’s really no reason they shouldn’t. The city is home to one of Europe's oldest and largest Christmas markets, which is held from the end of November through the end of the year. Stroll through more than 300 stalls, bursting with handicrafts, decorations and holiday treats. Find the market right in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Right in the center of the old town, you’ll find the Place Kleber - which is also home to an enormous and fabulous lit Christmas tree in late November through December. There’s a statue of Jean-Baptiste Kleber here, in honor of the French Revolutionary War general who was born in Strasbourg in 1753. During the holidays, the Christmas tree is surrounded by pop-up markets full of art, crafts and goodies.
My stroll along the banks of the River Ill admiring the Musee Alsacien
and the Petite France district.
Musee Alsacien & Other History Hotspots
Immerse yourself in local history at Musee Alsacien, composed of several linked 17th-century houses. Explore more than 5,000 exhibits, including the interiors of typical homes from the 18th and 19th centuries, costumes, toys, furniture and more. Over in the Newstadt district, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Place de la République, where you’ll see the late 19th-century German influence in the stately square’s architecture. Take time to visit the Palais du Rhin with its show-stopping staircase and cheerful Salon of the Empress. For a touch of Strasbourg’s more modern history, check out the official seat of the European Parliament. The Louise Weiss building, as well as four other structures, make this one of the most visible sights in the city.
While I would encourage a visit to lovely Strasbourg any time of year, the holidays are really when it shines. I'm already dreaming of soft pretzels, roasted chestnuts and vin chaud (hot mulled wine) as I wander through wooden chalets full of seasonal gifts and treats.
Let’s chat about how to make that a reality for you! Click the button below to schedule a consult!
Gluten-Free Pizza is a delicious option.
Can I Still Eat Well on a River Cruise If I Have Dietary Restrictions?
In a word, yes! Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free or lactose-intolerant, you can still get your fill, and enjoy every bite, when you cruise. There’s no need to miss out on all the great culinary offerings onboard or onshore, where there are bound to be local delicacies you’d love to try. Today, more than ever, cruise lines are adapting to passengers’ dietary requirements and ensuring that all palates and preferences are accounted for.
That said, preparation and forward thinking is key. I’ll offer some tips here for considering a cruise when you have dietary restrictions, then together we can look at your choices and determine which will be the best option for you, while satisfying your foodie predilections.
Communicate on the Culinary Front
As soon as you’ve decided on a destination and particular cruise line, let them know about your dietary needs. Remember, this is a ship that’s sailing away from port and as such, the boat will have a limit to its supplies and ingredients. The further ahead of time they know of your diet, the better they can address it, whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, low-/no-fat, low-/no-salt, lactose-intolerant/dairy-free, gluten- or wheat-free (celiac), low-cholesterol, diabetic, kosher or halal. Make sure you’ve communicated this to your travel advisor (who can relay to the cruise line) 45 to 90 days before departure.
Pro Tip: You may think it’s easiest to just bring aboard your own items that fit your diet, but perishable items are not allowed. Nonperishables are generally okay.
Gluten-Free Almond Cake made with almond meal or almond flour is a
wonderful dessert served aboard AmaWaterways ships.
Even More Communication is Better
Take Tip #1 one step further and be in touch with the dining department as soon as you get onboard. Chat up the restaurant manager or the chef to make sure that there are notes with your passenger dining and stateroom profile. You can let your cabin steward know of any allergies, as well as the activities coordinator as often there are meals taken off the boat when you’re on an excursion.
Consistency is Key
If possible, choose set-seating dining so that you’re with the same waitstaff throughout the voyage. That way, you won’t find yourself having to double-check ingredients and explain your restrictions over and over to new waitstaff. But, you say … what if I want to try out all of the amazing culinary offerings on my ship? Not to worry … sometimes a chef can prepare a special meal from the dining room menu and then have it served in another venue so that you can enjoy some variety with your travel companions.
Gluten-Free Pancakes are just one of many choices that can be available.
Be Bold at the Buffet
The buffet is going to be your most challenging culinary conundrum. The ingredients won’t also be clearly marked and utensils may be mixed. Check in with the staff to see which dishes meet your personal dietary requirements and if you see something that fits the bill (say, gluten-free muffins), feel free to grab a few so as to have a snack for later! Even if you’re choosing items from the buffet, there are times you can ask to have a dish prepared especially for you, i.e., an omelet with olive oil instead of butter.
Think Ahead About Dining Ashore
As previously mentioned, be sure the activities coordinator or shore excursions desk knows of your culinary restrictions, as well. They can recommend places to eat, or do research for you, in port of call so that you’re not wasting time hunting down a restaurant for lunch that can cater to your needs. It also helps to have a physical note in the local language that details your dietary restrictions, which you can hand to the waitstaff in local restaurants.
Make an Informed Decision
As you’ve probably realized as you’re thinking about your cruise, there are numerous options out there. When it comes to dietary needs and restrictions, cruise lines will vary in their offerings and ability to satisfy your requirements. Together, we can sort through the choices, whether that’s looking at their websites, talking to their staff or even contacting or reading reviews by past guests to learn of their good (and not-so-good) experiences.
My ultimate goal is the most enjoyable cruise experience for you - both in and out of the dining room. Let’s chat about how to find you the most appealing, and appetizing, voyage for you!
I often find myself utilizing the cruise line's transportation, but then wandering on my
own as I did this day when I hiked as far as I could up the base of Mt. Hood.
Much of the appeal of a cruise, wherever in the world you sail, is the chance to get off the ship for a day and explore a new destination. But what if you’d like to do that exploring on your own, without the organized sightseeing group arranged by your cruise line? Or, what if you found an enticing independent tour you’d like to try? Not to worry. This do-it-yourself exploration is totally doable, and allowed - after all, this is your vacation!
In general, your cruise manager will provide you with a map of each port. This way you can clearly find the major highlights. They’ll also be able to recommend restaurants, shops, museums, cafes, bars and more. Some cruise lines will even provide a personal audio device that you can use for individual sightseeing (pre-recorded commentary plays based on your GPS location).
I recently was able to visit Riverfront Park in Spokane prior to my Columbia and Snake Rivers
cruise. The pavilion is beautiful and I regret missing seeing it lit up at night.
How Do Ship-Sponsored and Independent Tours Differ?
Typically, an organized, ship-sponsored shore excursion consists of a walking tour, bus tour or a guided activity, whether that’s biking or some other type of activity. You would schedule this type of tour through your cruise line.
Alternatively, you can choose to book an independent tour with a private guide or company. We can work together to determine if this would save you money, meet your interests and work with the timing of your ship’s departure from port.
Generally, I do recommend ship-sponsored tours over booking your own. Trying to pull together the various parts of transportation, sightseeing and getting back in time isn’t usually worth the hassle, so the shore excursions offered by the cruise lines are more beneficial. However, I occasionally have a client looking for something in particular, and in that case we work together to make that experience happen.
Pros and Cons
If you’re a DIYer, you’ll definitely prefer to sightsee on your own, at your pace and according to your interests (even if that just means sipping a glass of local wine and soaking up village life for several hours). You’ll likely feel a more personal connection to the destination when exploring on your own.
Then again, if you want to get the insider take on a new place, you might prefer the guide-led shore excursion offered by your cruise line. They’re typically locals themselves and can reveal all the historical and cultural tidbits for which you might be thirsting.
Going it on your own will also mean a much smaller group - either just you and your travel partners, or perhaps a couple friends you’ve met onboard. You can even consider a private guide and car, so you can move along at your own pace.
The organized shore tours are inevitably larger, but this varies by cruise line. You may run the risk of feeling like you’re being shepherded on and off a bus all day, never really delving into one attraction too deeply. Then again, if you like efficiency, these bus tours can be just the ticket.
I very much enjoyed exploring the Central Market Hall in Budapest.
Don’t Miss the Boat
One important caveat if you choose to go DIY in your destination: Get back to the ship on time. If you’re late, you’re more than likely going to have to get to the next port of call on your own dime to meet the ship there. I highly recommend that you add the ship's contact info to your phone before taking off on your own to explore. The cruise manager will often provide their cell phone number also in case of emergency and they will help you as best as possible.
What to Bring with You
Whether you’re going sightseeing on your own or you’re on an organized shore excursion, be sure to bring certain items with you. These include a photo or a photocopy of your passport, a photo ID, a small amount of cash and one credit card.
Practically speaking, bring along a daypack with snacks, water, a camera, a map, a hat, sunglasses, a rain jacket and/or umbrella. Many river cruise ships will have umbrellas, but I personally keep mine in my small pack so I never forget it.
Leave valuables and large amounts of cash on board.
Ready to explore? Click the button below and schedule a consult! I'd love to chat!
Zurich is easily accessible from Basel either before or after a Rhine River cruise.
When it comes to quintessential Swiss experiences, you really can’t beat Zurich. Effortlessly blending outdoor and indoor activities, the picturesque town - with the double bonus of both a shimmering lake and gorgeous alpine surroundings - is the best of both worlds for those travelers who seek culture and outdoor recreation. From swimming in the city’s pristine open-air swimming pools to shopping along the upscale Bahnhofstrasse, from taking a cogwheel train up a nearby mountain to strolling like an in-the-know local along the Viadukt, there are countless ways to spend a few days in Zurich before or after your river cruise. Here are top experiences you don’t want to miss:
Shop, People-Watch and Dine Along the Viadukt
Beneath the arches of a historic railway viaduct, you’ll find one of the hippest places to hang out in Zurich: the aptly named Viadukt, which runs between the bank of the Limmat River and the Hardbrücke station in the Zurich West. Browse the shops, pop into the restaurants and bars and listen to open-air concerts or events in the various arches. A favorite quirky shop: the carefully curated Westflügel book shop. Hungry? Stop by the organic Markthalle. There’s a Saturday market in the summer and a fondue tent in the winter.
Take a River Day Cruise
Board one of the flat boats of the Limmatschuifffahrt and you’ll get the chance to pass below the seven bridges of the Limmat River. With just 51 passengers allowed on each boat, you’ll want to make arrangements in advance. The one-hour boat trip departs from the Landesmuseum station.
Spend a Day with Chagall … and Van Gogh and Monet
Art lovers will adore the Kunsthaus. This tidy little museum has an entire series of rooms dedicated to Swiss artists and sculpture Alberto Giacometti, as well as works by Van Gogh, Monet and Chagel, among others. There is a great collection of modern art, as well.
St. Peter’s Church (St. Peterskirche) is one of Zurich’s
most distinctive landmarks.
Explore the Niederdorf
Referred to as the “Dörfli” by locals, the old town area of Zurich is actually composed of two parts: Niederdorf and Oberdorf, stretching between Central and Bellevue. Forego the touristy fondue restaurants and souvenir shops, and instead take the time to marvel at the ancient architecture and charming narrow streets, unique shops and cozy bars. Sip a Moscatel at one such watering hole, or if you aspire to higher goals, climb up one of the towers of Grossmünster.
Shop the Bahnhofstrasse
Whether you’re just window shopping or splurging on haute couture, the Bahnhofstrasse is a must for those with a penchant for purchasing. On one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, you’ll find recognizable, more mainstream brands at the lower half and the higher-fashion outposts at the upper end, close to Bürkliplatz and the lake. In the winter months, stick around to see the bright lights of “Lucy,” the custom-made Christmas display at the Bahnhofstrasse.
A cable car ride in Switzerland is the ride of a lifetime.
Take the SZU Up Uetliberg
One really mustn't miss the chance to ride the train up to the summit of Zurich’s hometown mountain. From the main train station, you can whisk to the top, then climb the observation tower for incredible views of the whole area. Take the trail from there to the Felsenegg, then take the cable car down to Adliswil, returning to Zurich on the train. It’s the perfect mini alpine day trip.
Soak It All In
Literally. Finally, after sightseeing or hiking in the mountains, head to Hürlimann Areal for a soak in the Thermalbad & Spa rooftop pool, steam baths and shallow pools. There are huge wooden tubs from the old brewery in the basement, in which you can sit and soak to your heart’s delight.
Ready to explore Zurich with a pre or post river cruise land extension? I can’t wait to hear about your adventures. First, let’s chat so we can get you there and arrange the perfect itinerary to match your travel style and interests. I look forward to hearing from you!
Travel Advisor Specializing in River Cruising